Professional linguist, Dr. George Lakoff, says, "All politics is moral." As he explained to AlterNet's Joshua Holland in a recent interview about his new book with co-author Elisabeth Wehling, "The Little Blue Book: The Essential Guide to Thinking and Talking Democratic":
All politics is moral at the base. Any political leader who gives you some sort of prescription of what to do does it because he says it’s right, not because he says it’s wrong or doesn’t matter. Everybody thinks it’s right.But all this talk of morals can be confusing and frustrating. We tend to think of morals as gauges of "goodness," as much as "correctness." If a person is "moral" they are "good"; if they are immoral, they are "bad." And if someone has more morals than another, they're thought to be a "better person" than one with fewer morals.
So when scientists such as Dr. Lakoff, Dr. Jonathan Haidt, or Dr. Drew Westen try to teach us about the morality of politics, and describe Conservative morality as broader, more complex, or containing more elements than Progressive morality, we bristle. "Conservatives are not more moral than Progressives!" we shout. And we have a tendency to shut out what we don't believe (or don't want to believe), and instead of learning from it, we start arguing against it. Oops!
We at the Winning Words Project agree completely with the experts on this issue, but we'd like to put it in a new frame for you:
All politics is emotional.
Think about it for a moment; why are you interested in politics? Because you care. You care about the world around you; you care about your neighborhood, your city, your state, your country; you care about the environment, our natural resources, clean air and water; you care about the economy and the effects of policy on our fiscal health as families and as a nation. And you feel that certain solutions are more feasible than others, that some approaches are better than others.
Progressives and Democrats believe we have "the facts on our side," and so we spend a lot of time arguing those facts. Alot.In detail.
But Conservatives and Republicans also believe they have the facts on their side, too (even though we might disagree). The difference is, they don't talk about those facts—they wax poetic in sweeping prose about things like freedom and tyranny. And when they do, they draw people into the emotions of what they're selling. And let's be honest, that's exactly what then-candidate Obama did in 2008, too!
We talk a lot about how we can "combat" the Right Wing "messaging machine," and debunk their rhetoric. We wonder why facts don't seem to matter and become angry that we can't get through to people they way the Right Wing can. But it's really simple: We need to do a better job of getting people (primarily those persuadable voters in the middle) to care about the same things we care about, in the same way we care about them.
And that's an easier task than it might seem, because most people do care about the same things we do!
So how do we get them to care in the same way we care? By talking about the issues that are facing us in a completely different way: Speak to the heart and not the brain. We don't fall in love with someone because they look good on paper, even though they do look good on paper. Facts don't matter to our hearts, only to our heads; and most of us lead with our hearts in nearly all aspects of our lives, only contemplating the "details" after we've opened our hearts to considering them!
Here's how I can prove this to you: Think of the popular reality television shows, "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette." The producers find a group of single people who all meet the criteria of the contestant who will be choosing among them ... on paper. They're pretty much all perfect fits, factually speaking. But the bachelor or bachelorette doesn't just pick one at random and say, "That's him! or "That's her!" They let their hearts guide them to the one who makes them feel the best when they're with them.
Does that mean we shouldn't look for substance in our politicians? Perish the thought! That's paramount. But the candidate with the most substance in the Republican primaries—the one who actually was the perfect candidate for that party with the political background and knowhow along with deeply Conservative bona fides—was Jon Huntsman ... and Republicans (and I contend, the media) didn't fall in love with him. He didn't make them feel excited about his candidacy, so he didn't come anywhere near becoming the nominee. Jon Huntsman is the perfect Republican presidential candidate ... on paper.
Well the policies with the most substance on the Progressive side of the political argument aren't making America fall in love with them right now, either. And the only way we can ever hope to have persuadable voters consider the details of our policies is if we get them to fall in love with the ideas behind them.
How do we do that? Dr Drew Westen has addressed this in his book The Political Brain — The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation:
“…The most powerful campaign advertisements, the most effective speeches, and the most effective moments in debates all combine emotion and cognition. But they do so in a very particular way, and in a very particular sequence. Usually they lead with something emotionally compelling — a moral issue facing the country, the personal history of the candidate, a story about a person the candidate has met on the campaign trail, an injustice that cries out to be rectified.”
We can be more successful in our messaging by recognizing that political decisions come out of values and emotions more than facts and policies; by recognizing, as Dr Westen stresses, “that elections are won in the marketplace of emotions.” And by “…recognizing the difference between conscious and unconscious sentiment, appealing to voter’s better angels…”
Often this can best happen with stories—compelling narratives which speak to both our thoughts and our emotions, which are in Dr Westen’s words “emotionally intelligent.”
For instance, we stop talking about man-made global warming and start talking about family farmers losing their crops, families losing their homes to intense wildfires, and severe tornadoes. Most people don't know enough about the ozone layer to "care" one way or another about it; but they care deeply about the tragedies their fellow Americans suffer in these horrific acts of nature. Though it would be better if nonbelievers understood the science so that we could bring them to that “Aha!” moment, in reality, we don’t actually need to insist they accept that our planet is warming because of man-made conditions in order to convince them something needs to be done about it. Cancer is not man-made, yet no one would argue against coming up with ways to treat it or cure it.
We stop talking about the politics and economics of the Patient Protection Act, and begin relating stories about those who need its protections, as Wendell Potter is doing in his new Twitter series on Why Health Care Reform Is Necessary:
Why reform is necessary-1. Braun: Harrison man may be too poor to receive heart transplant | NJ.com ow.ly/cqrOi
— Wendell Potter (@wendellpotter) July 23, 2012
And we stop talking about taxes and start talking about patriotism and country and working together as one nation, reminding people that just because you and I might have made our way through the morass relatively unscathed, most of our fellow Americans have not. And we need to step up and fight for them. They matter. We all matter, not just those at the top. Invite our tea party friends and family to join us in standing together and fighting for each other and not against each other, because when we do that we all win as a people. All of us, shoulder to shoulder, holding inanimate entities—corporations—to standards that don’t do damage to one segment of us for the sole benefit of another.
Reminder # 2--Why health care reform is necessaryUninsured Aurora Victim Could Face $2 Million in Medical Bills ow.ly/cuiVL
— Wendell Potter (@wendellpotter) July 25, 2012
From our suggestion onhow President Obama can win back the hearts of businesses:
When we look at a map and see the familiar outline of our country, we recognize ourselves as one nation and feel proud. In a few months we'll see newspapers slicing and dicing that map of our country into red states and blue States: red states for Republicans, blue States for Democrats. But I've got news for them. We want businesses to succeed in blue states, and we protect workers in the red states.Politics is emotional. Let’s make people feel that swell of excitement they felt in 2008. Here’s a reminder:
There's not a workers' America and a business America. We are the United States of America, where workers and business owners alike can reap the rewards of their investments in the prosperity of our great nation.
We celebrate together the achievements of great American heroes: gold medal winners and brave explorers; those who fight fires and those who fight to protect our freedoms.
So let us also celebrate together those who make our country great every day. Innovators who bring us new technology, entrepreneurs who build businesses from the ground up, and workers whose resolve and energy keep our economy moving 24/7, 365 days a year.
America is at its greatest when all of us are at our strongest. United we stand, divided we fall.
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